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Dr. George M. Noesen received his B.S. degree from St. John's University in Collegeville, Minn., with a major in Biology. He received his D.D.S. degree from the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry in 1985. After dental school, he was accepted into a 1-year General Practice Residency through the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry and Hospital, and at St. Paul Regions Hospital. He received his General Practice Residency Certificate in June 1986. Dr. Noesen also served as a clinical instructor at the School of Dentistry for three years and at the Operative Clinic at the School of Dentistry for one year, before starting his practice in Red Wing, Minn., in September 1986.
With the help of patient education, one dental practice's patients see them as partners working to find the best solution to fit their individual needs.
As much as we try to provide guidance, at the end of the day our patients have to determine what works best for them.
The problem occurs when we have patients who won’t commit to a needed procedure for whatever reason – financial setbacks, not understanding the severity of the issue, or being afraid of the recommended procedure. In order to help my patients with their oral health decisions, we implemented a patient education system into our practice.
Our patient education system has brought our practice and patients many benefits, a few of which I will outline on the following pages...
Helping our patients decide the best plan of action
We utilize our patient education system quite frequently to explain a variety of different issues, such as the importance of oral hygiene, what a root canal actually looks like, and correct orthodontic care. We have found that visuals and simple explanations make a world of a difference in helping our patients understand our recommendations or instructions.
We begin by discussing our patients’ problem areas, and communicating to them what the next steps should be. From there, we share a video of what the particular issue is, such as a cavity that needs to be filled or better attention to flossing. The video explains exactly why the particular issue needs to be addressed, which is something that can, at times, get lost in translation when just speaking with the patient.
We then go over options, starting with the best recommendation and moving to any needed alternatives. We continue to share videos of what each treatment plan would look like. In the example of discussing a cavity with a patient, we would first show a filling, and then move to an extraction or a root canal.
After the patient has seen the videos, one of my assistants goes over the associated costs with the patient, as that is a huge factor in case acceptance. Although we may highly recommend a root canal, a patient may not be able to afford it at that time. If so, we look to other options as a team with the patient, working to identify what will benefit the patient and fit his or her budget.
Ultimately, our patient education system helps facilitate the necessary conversations between the patient and the dental staff. Our patients to feel fully informed about their options before discussing them with me and, together, the videos and our conversations help them feel prepared to make the best and most appropriate decisions about their dental health.
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Breaking down the barriers
Good communication is key to keeping a happy and strong patient list. We are always looking for ways to improve our communication with patients, which is another reason why we implemented a patient education system.
One of my favorite features within our system, CAESY from Patterson Dental, is the language translation. All available videos can be played in both English and Spanish, so we are now able to reach a patient base that we were previously never able to reach. Although many of our Spanish-speaking patients know some English, we’ve found it is much easier for our patients to understand recommendations or instructions in their native language. Plus, they are much more comfortable in the office knowing they will hear treatment plans explained to them in Spanish. Understanding dental lingo can be hard enough, especially in a foreign language, so CAESY allows us to break down the language barrier in order to best serve our patients.
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Preparing and putting the patient at ease
With a large patient base and a long history of practicing dental care, I see patients go through many different life stages and changes, and I want to make sure they maintain optimal oral health no matter what they are going through. For example, in order to prepare our patients who are pregnant for the first time, we show them a video that explains what they can expect as far as their gingival health, and what types of changes they will experience. Being a first time-mother is an exciting opportunity, which is why we take the time to explain this new situation in the office, as well as send a link to watch the educational videos at home with a family member, if desired. We can also give them a printed document to take home that summarizes the video they have seen.
In other instances, patients who develop TMJ pain often visit my office and we are able to show them a video explaining what the disorder is and how to treat it. Links to these videos are then sent home with the patient to go over in their own time, so they can fully understand this new issue.
My practice also offers orthodontic services, and we’ve seen how much mothers appreciate the oral health videos that explain how to take care of your teeth with braces. Many times, what we say as parents or doctors goes in one ear and out the other with kids, but, with a video, there’s no escaping the facts. These, too, are sent home with the patient and parent and serve as an excellent reminder for the whole family.
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A technology that is as beneficial to the dentist as the patient
It is my goal to give our patients the very best service possible, and I believe technology has helped us to achieve that goal. Our patient education system has put time back in my day and the timesavings benefits alone have been well worth the investment.
For example, if a patient is debating between an implant or a bridge, it would take me about 15 minutes to sit down and explain the advantages to both options. Even after that conversation, the patient may not fully understand the pros and cons. This communication barrier can leave patients feeling frustrated or stuck.
To prevent this, an assistant can sit down and go through the videos and financials of each option with the patient while I am in another room performing a hygiene visit, an ortho check-up, or completing another procedure. After the assistant has finished showing the videos and discussing the different treatment plans and insurance options, I re-enter the appointment and answer any questions the patient may have. This helps the patient come to the best decision for his or her specific situation. With the introduction of a patient education system, my staff is now able to accomplish more in a single day.
We have come to realize that a picture truly is worth a thousand words and that showing a five-minute video can provide a wealth of knowledge to our patients. Not only are my staff and I able to accomplish much more in one day, but our patients are gaining a better understanding of oral health and its importance. With the help of patient education, our patients see us as partners working to find the best solution to fit their individual needs.
Editor's Note: Image via Shutterstock